Last night I attended another great speaker event sponsored by Design Madison. The featured guest for the evening was the lovely Lotta Nieminen. Lotta is originally from Helsinki, Finland and now owns her own design + illustration + art direction studio in Brooklyn, New York. The topic for her presentation was the idea of “wearing many hats” in her business, and more importantly that doing this makes her better at what she does. This topic resonates with me because, many times in my career, I have thought that it would be necessary to focus more on sticking to one particular role, instead of wearing multiple hats.
In design school, I studied all of the “studio” arts. Painting… printmaking…. ceramics… drawing…. Fun things. But things you have to be REALLY good at in order to be financially stable in life. Eventually I advanced to taking 2D and 3D design classes, and really enjoyed them, which is how I ended up on the path my career has taken. Since then, I have worked at 1) an advertising agency doing only traditional print projects. 2) A remote team where our jobs consisted predominately of website and web solution projects. 3) A corporate environment where my main role was catalog and direct mail piece creation. 4) And finally, taking the leap to start my own creative agency where we can focus on overall business needs, traditional or digital.
Many consultants, books, and articles on the topic of running a freelance business recommend narrowing your service offering to become successful. I have never fully grasped onto this concept because I have always been more focused on my clients needs. If a client has a project that I have not “done” before, I will figure out how to do it. By either endless research and training on my own, or by asking a colleague for help, or by taking a class… the task will get figured out and the project will be completed. Being unafraid to learn new things allows you to have new experiences.
In my opinion, having a multi-disciplinary skill set makes you more valuable to your clients than a designer that can only, or is only willing, to work in one type of media. Throughout her career, Lotta has fought strongly to keep her occupation as designer + illustrator. Both roles weighed equal amounts for her, and listening to her speak gave me the reassurance that what I am doing at SMP Studios is right for me. Can I be the best designer and best web developer at the same time? Probably not. However knowing both roles makes me better at creating big-picture business solutions for my clients.
Keep your mind open and keep learning!